A woman sat at a desk looks into the distance with a worried look on her face

What can I do if I’m being bullied or harassed at work?

Harassment and bullying are a serious problem in some workplaces and can sometimes be hard to prove. If you’re facing these issues it can make you feel emotionally and physically unwell, impacting on your performance and sometimes the reputation of the company.

What is harassment?

Harassment is defined under the Equality Act 2010 as:

Unwanted conduct related to an individual’s protected characteristics, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.

It’s important to highlight that for behaviour to be considered harassment, it has to be related to a protected characteristic.

Protected characteristics are:

  • age
  • gender reassignment
  • race
  • sex
  • disability
  • religion or belief
  • sexual orientation

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) has more information on harassment at work.

You can report harassment even if it is not being directed at you, and it can be carried out by anyone, including a customer or client.

What is bullying?

There is no standard definition for bullying, but ACAS describe it as:

  • intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour
  • an abuse of power that undermines, humiliates or denigrate or injure recipient

Sometimes one person may consider some actions as bullying, while someone else might not see it that way unless the behaviour is extreme. Bullying is not always face to face and can occur by other means of communications, such as email and text.

Can bullying and harassment be the same thing?

There are occasions where bullying and harassment can overlap. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) lists the following examples:

  • unwanted physical contact
  • unwelcome remarks about a person’s age, dress, appearance, race or marital status, jokes at personal expense, offensive language, gossip, slander, sectarian songs and letters
  • posters, graffiti, obscene gestures, flags, bunting and emblems
  • isolation or non-cooperation and exclusion from social activities
  • coercion for sexual favours
  • pressure to participate in political/religious groups
  • personal intrusion from pestering, spying and stalking
  • failure to safeguard confidential information
  • shouting and bawling
  • setting impossible deadlines
  • persistent unwarranted criticism
  • personal insults

What should my employer do if I’m being bullied or harassed?

Your employer should have a workplace policy in place on harassment and bullying for employees to read. It should set out:

  • the procedures for complaints and grievances
  • a step by step guide on actions to be taken if there are allegations of bullying or harassment
  • actions being taken by the organisation to prevent bullying and harassment
  • training available for staff
  • the responsibilities for managers, team leaders and supervisors

What can I do if I’m being bullied or harassed?

If you’re facing bullying or harassment in the workplace, there are several steps you can take. This includes:

  • keeping a written record/diary of occurrences
  • speaking to the person bullying or harassing you to make them aware of their behaviour and how it is affecting you (or ask a  union rep or colleague to speak to them on your behalf)
  • asking for a meeting with your team leader or manager (ask a colleague or a union rep to come with you if you need support)
  • speaking to human resources or occupational health team if your organisation has one

It’s also important to know your rights. The following documents contain more information:

What support is available if I’m being bullied or harassed at work?

Organisations that can help include:

You can also check if you’re eligible for employment support from Work Well.